Remarks to the Community in San Diego, California
Thank you so much. Thank you, Chief Emerson, Sheriff Kolender, District Attorney Phingst. Chief Sanders, thank you very much for the tour of your activities this morning and your statements. Thank you, Congressman Filner. Thank you, Madam Attorney General, for all the great work you do. I'd like to also say a word of appreciation for some others who are here who have not spoken today: our United States Attorney, Alan Bersin; the Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner, Doris Meissner; the person who was very active in helping me pass the crime bill which put these police officers on our streets, former Congresswoman Lynn Schenk, I'm delighted to see you here.
I want to thank all the officers who are here from the Customs, the Border Patrol, Immigration, from Chula Vista, from San Diego. I especially want to thank these uniformed officers who give their lives to make our lives safer and all the community citizens groups who work with them. Thank you all very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, when I came to California and to San Diego 4 years ago and I listened and attempted to learn what was going on here, I saw an enormous amount of potential and a lot of stress. Mostly what people talked to me about then were two problems, the economy and the problem of crime and illegal immigration. I spent a lot of time here 4 years ago and had the opportunity to come back often since. If you'll forgive me just one personal note, this is the first time I've come back to San Diego since the death of my friend Larry Lawrence, who served this country so well as our Ambassador to Switzerland, and I miss him now, coming back here, and I want to thank him for what he did for me here. Anyway, what we tried to do was to develop a serious approach, to work with you, to help you seize control of your destiny, and to help you do more of what you were already inclined to do.
On the economy, I'd like to make just a couple of comments. Because we're building two new ships for our national defense, the San Diego shipyards are busy, securing another 4,000 jobs until the year 2000. I think that's a good and positive step. Because in 1993 and 1994 the Congress agreed to invest in defense conversion, in high technology research and development and new environmental technologies and biotechnology, jobs are being created here that have a real future to grow in number and to strengthen and diversify the economy of this area. Because we've started work on a new sewage treatment plant and we're proposing to step up our sand reclamation efforts, thanks in no small measure to the relentless efforts of Congressman Filner, we're ensuring that the San Diego beaches will be enjoyed by children and their children for generations to come.
But we all know that America has had, building over years and years and years, a serious problem of illegal immigration which has aggravated the crime problem along our borders. The Attorney General talked about some of the progress we've made. She gave me a report today which reviews where we are and what we've done. So as we have worked hard to bring the crime rate down all over America, we've made special efforts in our border communities, because we know that we have special responsibilities there. Immigration laws are national laws, not State laws. They have to be enforced, and the consequences of their enforcement or their failure to be enforced have to be borne primarily by the National Government. I have done what I could to get more money into California in very difficult fiscal circumstances in Washington to help you deal with the costs of illegal immigration—more than ever before— and I will continue to work on that.
But the most important thing is we have to be able to work together to prove that we can do better. I agreed with what the district attorney said when he said there's a difference in being a safer community and a safe community. I agreed with what the sheriff said when he said that we'd never fully solve this problem until both the United States and our friends in Mexico are working together in a long-term and consistent way.
But think about how far we have come in the last 3 1/2 years. Three and a half years ago, many people believed that these problems were totally intractable, that drugs would always flow freely, that illegal immigration would always be rampant, that criminal immigrants deported for crimes they committed here in America would return the very next day to commit crimes again.
For a lot of years people in public life at election time talked tough about immigration, but didn't do much about it. We tried to change that. We tried to substitute deeds for words. It's a pretty good practice in a lot of areas of life, and I think it's worked pretty well here. Our message has been simple: We will work with you to give you the tools you need to patrol your streets, protect your children, secure our common border. And you have to do what you can to help the police to bring the crime rate down and make your community safe.
Well, you heard what the prosecutor said: San Diego has the 5th lowest crime rate in the country of the 75 biggest urban areas. I actually believe when the numbers come out this year, you'll be even lower than that. And it's a great tribute to the work that you have done together.
Let me say, again, while the job is far from over—and we have a lot of work to do—the report I got from the Justice Department makes clear that we have begun to turn border communities under siege into communities where law and order and safety and security are once again the order of the day. I want to say too, again, I'm glad that we're working to put 100,000 police officers on the streets of America, that we're putting community policing in every community in the country that's willing to receive it. But what really makes it work are law enforcement officers committed to it and citizens groups working on it.
Today I had a very impressive briefing from people involved in the San Diego citizens patrol in the Safe Streets Now program. They are also helping your communities to be safer. The RSVP program is helping your community to be safer. So I ask you, don't stop now. We need more citizens working with more police officers until crime is the exception, not the rule. When you're surprised when you hear about a crime, then you'll know you've got a safe community. And you need to continue to do it.
The second thing we're doing is to put criminals behind bars. And after they serve their time, if they don't belong here in the first place, they're being deported. The crime bill gave us the weapons we need to do things that had not been done before to deal with the problems of criminal activities by illegal immigrants. As of January of last year, we have arrested more than 1,700 criminal aliens and prosecuted them on Federal felony charges because they returned to America after having been deported in the first place. We are changing the policy of this country on that problem.
We are also making strides in getting control of our border. We've added Border Patrol agents, in San Diego alone increasing by 762 the number of agents who are working for you by the end of this year. In El Paso, our border guards stand so close together, they can actually all see each other. [Laughter]
Here in San Diego, control has been taken back of Imperial Beach from the criminals and the illegals. We deployed underground sensors, infrared night scopes, encrypted radios. We built miles of new fences, installed thousands of watts of new lighting. There is more to do. I heard what was said earlier about the threats facing San Diego residents in East County, particularly with the onset of the fire season. Today I have asked the Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, to send 20 more law enforcement officers to Cleveland National Forest, and they will be there by the close of business today.
Let me say one final word of appreciation here to the cooperation between the Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials. What they have done here today, over the last several months—I mean, it ought to be something that we all take for granted. It ought to be the rule in every jurisdiction in America. It's a shame that it's rare, but it is rare, and we can be grateful that here there is one American law enforcement team. And I tell you, that's what we're trying to create for all the citizens of the United States, wherever they live.
And I am very proud of what they've done. They've put aside politics and put the people of this community first, their safety first, their future first. That's why there has been an 84 percent increase in felony drug prosecutions in one year. That's why murders and robberies and car thefts have dropped so much, because they're all working together and working for you, instead of protecting their turf and playing politics. And I say, God bless them, we need more like them all over this country.
Let me just say one other thing that affects Americans a long way from you, but I bet you've all identified with them in the past few months. Even as we crack down on illegal immigration and do more than has ever been done before on that, we must never forget that we are all a nation of immigrants and, except for the Native Americans, we all came from somewhere else. I say that to make this point: Our incredible diversity is a source of our rich potential as we move into this global society. Anybody who is willing to work hard, obey the law, respect their neighbors, and follow the values inherent in the Constitution ought to have a chance in America, and that ought to be the rule here.
And because we're people and because we're imperfect, the country will always have problems. There will never be a time when there will be no problems. But we really fall into a dangerous trap when we start blaming our problems on other people just because they are different from us.
I say that because even though I'm a long way from there, my heart has been in my native South for the last several weeks as we have dealt with this incredible rash of church burnings. That's just another way of people finding a way—trying to blame somebody else or put down somebody else or put distance between them and someone else in a totally dehumanizing way, forgetting that everybody should be treated equally before the law, in the eyes of our fellow Americans, just as we are before God Almighty. And to burn a church is a terrible thing. Just 2 days ago, I reported to the American people about what we were doing to deal with the church bombings. And then barely a day later yet another congregation, this one in Greenville, Texas, found its church in flames. We have got to stop these things.
We do have a team of Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials working overtime to investigate these crimes. Just this morning, Federal investigators made an arrest for the burning of the church in Charlotte, North Carolina, last Thursday. And I do want you to know that for all the partisan fights you hear about in Washington, there is a bipartisan bill before the Congress, sponsored by a Democrat from Michigan, John Conyers, and a Republican from Illinois, Henry Hyde, to make it easier to prosecute anyone who attacks any house of worship, of any religious faith, of any race in America, and I urge Congress to pass it without delay.
We need to come together as one America to rebuild our churches, restore hope, and show the forces of hatred they cannot win, just as we need to come together as one America to say we are a nation of immigrants and we're a nation of laws. If you want to be in our country, you should be here lawfully. We will protect our people. We will enforce our laws. We will secure our future. And we will do it together.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:56 a.m. at police headquarters. In his remarks, he referred to Richard Emerson, Chula Vista police chief; William Kolender, San Diego County sheriff; Paul Phingst, district attorney; and Jerry Sanders, San Diego police chief.
William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Community in San Diego, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/223301